Finnish researchers designing mobile MR unit that could fit in a van

June 02, 2020
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Researchers in Aalto University in Finland are developing a mobile MR scanner designed for transport in a van rather than a lorry, or trailer.

The aim of the three-year project — which costs more than $830,000 (€750,000) — is to build a lighter, cheaper and mobile solution that would not require specially trained healthcare personnel to handle it.

"There are many important diagnostic problems, which require a fast evaluation of the situation with the patient," said Severi Uusitalo, designer and associate professor of industrial design at Aalto, told HCB News. "These include traumas causing internal hemorrhages, bone fractures, and concussions of tissues like muscles and brain. Here high resolution is not actually needed but a rapid evaluation to guide for conclusions on how to proceed with therapy. A Van MR may be driven in the areas of crises like a battlefield, earthquakes or flooding. The high value of the prompt evaluation of the patient for the improved outcomes of therapy may be expected."

While the image quality of the low-field scanner may not be on par with that of a high-field system, the system could have a variety of applications, including diagnosing inflammatory diseases such as pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis, internal bleeding, abscesses and fluid deposition.

The design incorporates permanent magnets, rather than superconducting electromagnets, allowing the magnetic field to be persistent. The use of low field MR is inherently safe, according to Uusitalo, due to the low RF power required, barely audible operation of gradients, and especially its virtually negligible ferromagnetic forces which allow a patient to bypass prescreening for ferromagnetic and metallic particles or objects and be scanned quicker. The scanner is also safe for personnel and various life-supporting and monitoring equipment, with no fear of a projectile hazard occurring.

The application of very low field MRI provides good contrast and differentiation potential between hemorrhages and normal tissue, abscesses, inflammations like pneumonia and sinusitis. These problems are common among children and elderly people and crucial to detect early, as the evaluation capability of pneumonia and pleural fluid collections are important in cases of influenza and cancer.

The designers also went with low field MR due to the low cost of using it. The radiological services may be provided via communication networks, enabling the value of the service for diagnostics to be high.

The new MR is a collaborative effort, with the university’s department of electrical engineering and automation in the School of Electrical Engineering overseeing the magnetic structure and computational modeling, while the department of design at the School for Arts, Design and Architecture plans the applications and design language of the equipment. Aalto Design Factory is involved in the implementation and mechanical design of the device.

Researchers at Aalto hope to begin testing a prototype of the system soon and are searching for suitable applications for it. A few ideas include use in refugee camps and other emergency locations, and potentially in wellness sectors — a new environment for MR imaging — to measure body fat. Uusitalo says continued innovations of this technology may one day lead to the creation of a van-sized high-field MR system, but that challenges around cost and safety must be addressed first.

"There may be van-sized high field MR and these will be targeted in some special areas such as the brain, joint, and breast scanning," he said. "However, the technology will be rather costly and there are safety issues related to the high magnetic field."

The project is funded by the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation, and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.